Canada’s Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a popular Chinese restaurant to pay a black customer $ 10,000 for forcing the man and his friends to prepay for their meals in 2014, reports say.
Emile Wickham tells PEOPLE he was celebrating his 28th birthday with three friends on May 3, 2014, when the group decided to head to Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant —a beloved staple in downtown Toronto —for food.
“We were seated, we ordered food and the waiter immediately asked us to pay,” says Wickham, now 31. “We were skeptical, like, ‘Why do we need to pay before we eat?’ They indicated that it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”
Wickham and his friends, the only black customers there at the time, did as they were asked. But suspicious of the rule, Wickham began asking other diners whether they’d been asked to pay upfront.
They all said no.
Wickham then confronted the waiter, whom he says quickly became defensive.
“We were confident, like, ‘Yo, this is messed up.’ When we confronted them, they didn’t even deny it,” Wickham says of the staff. “They offered us our money back. They didn’t offer any defense of why they did it.”
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Upset, the group collected their money and quickly left the restaurant.
“I couldn’t believe that they were so bold in it. I couldn’t believe the boldness of the action,” says Wickham, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago. “I had some hope that they would be like, ‘Guys, sorry we messed up. Please accept our apology.’ They have not showed any ounce of regret.”
He adds: “We have a business who thinks it’s okay to discriminate against its black customers.”
Almost exactly one year after the incident, Wickham filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which handles harassment and discrimination claims. Wickham accused restaurant staff of racially profiling him and his friends.
In a statement submitted to the Tribunal by an attorney for the restaurant, officials said the establishment had implemented a prepayment policy years ago for customers who were nor “regulars” at the restaurant in an attempt to prevent dining-and-dashing, according to the Washington Post. But one of Wickham’s friends, who was present the night of the incident, testified that he had eaten at Hong Shing numerous times.
The Tribunal also found no evidence that any such policy existed at the restaurant, the Post reports.
On April 18, the Tribunal ordered Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant officials to pay Wickham $ 10,000 as a result of the incident.
However, Wickham says he was simply hoping for an apology.
“ doesn’t really bring me the level of excitement or joy other people might think it may give me. I really just wanted an apology and for the restaurant to be held accountable for their actions,” Wickham tells PEOPLE. “I would’ve been more than happy with them taking responsibility for what they did and showing a commitment to never do it again. That’s something I don’t feel is going to happen.”
But, he adds, he’s relieved that the Tribunal took him seriously.
“When I found out that the decision went in my favor, I was so relieved that we were believed. I didn’t even think about the monetary… I was just like, ‘Wow, she believed us.’ “
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